Difference between Motivation and Inspiration

Updated on May 31, 2017

We have motivational speakers and inspirational quotes. Or is that the other way around? You don’t know, do you? It’s because so many people use these words interchangeably when they shouldn’t. There is a clear difference between what it means to inspire and what it means to motivate, as well as the contexts in which they are properly used.



Motivation is a concept that gives reason to human actions. A person’s motive dictates the action and its outcome. For example, you make a dinner reservation because you want to celebrate your promotion at a fancy restaurant. Or you could make a reservation because you expect to get hungry in the evening. Therefore, motivation can be influenced by a large number of factors: physical, social, financial, cultural, or religious, to name a few. There are also subconscious issues we do not know motivate us.

To find your motivation means to remember why you started doing something in the first place. The most accessible example in this respect is that of going to the gym. You start out strong and you eventually grow weary of spending time there daily or every few days. You start thinking of skipping a day or two because you are tired, it’s raining outside, and you already lost some weight. To get motivated means to start looking deep down, to remember the reason why you started doing this in the first place, and to use that reason to push you out the door and onto the treadmill.

Not being motivated enough means not having found the right reason to start doing something. For example, you might feel that taking a few pounds off through regular exercise is not that important for you. However, improving your health and your tone might just work wonders and be the winning argument.

Inspiration is a concept that defines anything that arouses your desire to do something. It is usually inexplicable, happens at a completely random time, and is a powerful driving force. It starts a mental and emotional process that is the main engine behind great things. The impulse given is spontaneous and it is accompanied by newly found energy and tools to help you achieve your goal.

Sometimes, simply asking a different question can inspire you and get to an unexpected answer. The difference between something done mechanically and something done with great inspiration consists in the fact that the later is expected to be greater, better, and inspirational in itself.

Anything can be a source of inspiration. It all depends on how connected you constantly remain to the question you are asking, to the project you have in mind. In reality, inspiration means suddenly making a connection with ideas you already had in your head, and putting things together for a wonderful result.

Since inspiration can come from a variety of sources, you alone know where to look for inspiration, depending on what you need to be inspired for. For example, say you have an art project you need to get done but you cannot get yourself to do it. So you set out to visit an art gallery in hopes of getting some inspiration. You only make it out of your house and suddenly you see something that gives you an idea and you are inspired enough to complete your task.

Motivation vs Inspiration

So what is the difference between motivation and inspiration?

To be motivated means to have a good reason for doing something and to constantly remember that. Like working hard to get a raise and move out of a small apartment. To be inspired means to have suddenly made some connections that are so intriguing that you need to get working on the spot so as not to lose momentum.

You motivate yourself, but inspiration comes from outside. Therefore, the motivational sources are controllable and they can act as a lever that you pull whenever you need to be reminded of why you are doing something. Inspiration, on the other hand, is uncontrollable. You could go back to a place where you have felt inspired in the past, only to come back empty handed; or you could find inspiration in a place you least expect it, like while crossing the street or at the grocery store.

Motivation seems a bit more palpable and is something you are supposed to find inside of you. It exists. Otherwise you would not have started that project in the first place. Inspiration is more elusive and is not a guarantee. You can complete a project and not have felt inspired at all.

The general assumption is that motivation makes you work harder and inspiration makes you more creative.

Comparison Chart

Is the reason behind your actionsIs the random and unique connection between several ideas; it helps you do a better job
You find it within yourselfYou need to look for it outside yourself
It truly exists; if it doesn’t, you have no reason to do somethingIt may or may not be found
Is supposed to make you work harderIs supposed to make you work more creatively